MRSA on the Loose

Wild animals are getting and spreading the deadly antibiotic-resistant bacteria.   

By | October 22, 2012

Wikimedia, MasterukWild animals harbor and transmit the most infamous and life-threatening drug-resistant germ, methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), according to a study published this month (October 1) in the Journal of Wildlife Diseases, which identified the deadly superbug in two wild rabbits and a shorebird.

“[MRSA] can move all over,” epidemiologist and senior author of the study Tara Smith of Iowa told KCRG, a local ABC affiliate in Iowa. “It extends beyond your typical human environment: hospitals, gyms, homes. It can also be in the wild environment,” she added, and “animals can be reservoirs and transmit it to people.”

In the study, researchers surveyed 114 animals from the Wildlife Care Clinic at Iowa State University in Ames, and found that seven animals carried non-drug resistant S. aureus, including owls, a beaver, a heron, and a squirrel. In addition, three animals tested positive for MRSA. Researchers had previously isolated MRSA from wild chimpanzees and dolphins, in addition to domesticated pets and livestock.

S. aureus is commonly found on human skin and can cause opportunistic infections that are easily treated by antibiotics. But MRSA, which is associated with misuse of antibiotics in clinical and farm environments, is more difficult to treat and often dwells in hospitals, killing 18,000 Americans a year—and the number of MRSA infections continues to rise.

The new finding begs the question of how wild animals encounter MRSA. Genetic testing indicated that the bird’s MRSA strain was similar to that of hospital-derived drug-resistant bugs, while the rabbits carried strains from other human-derived sources, such as farms. Though tracing MRSA through the environment is technically difficult, many scientists speculate that drug-resistant germs from farms or clinics could spread through sewage, water runoff, or trash. 

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Avatar of: Pat


Posts: 1

October 24, 2012

"Wild animals harbor and transmit the most infamous and life-threatening drug-resistant germ, methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus(MRSA)..." ???? Pure garbarge.  There is nothing in here that says anything about transmitting.  These animals were in a wildlife care center, which means that they had close and sustained human contact.  Is it a surprise that they might have MRSA strains commonly found in humans?  Was anything done to rule out contamination from the workers?  This study was poorly designed.  This kind of work (MRSA + wild animals!!) is great a grabbing headlines but likely has little or no implication for human health at all.  

Look, we already have a huge huge MRSA problem in this country, lots of transmission in the community and hospitals.  We don't need wild rabbits to help explain what is going on, even if they were truly colonized by MRSA (they probably weren't). 

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